At the beginning of the 2023 Colorado legislative session, freshman Republican Rep. Ken DeGraaf of Colorado Springs took to the House Floor to introduce his brand of right-wing nuttery to the rest of the state. DeGraaf punctuated his remarks with an oft-used quote that he clearly never bothered to internalize himself.
“What we have learned from history is that we never learn from history,” said DeGraaf after speaking at length on his opposition to abortion rights – an issue that played a significant role two months earlier in handling Colorado Republicans their worst election losses in generations. There was no indication from DeGraaf that he even recognized the irony in his words.
As we approach the 18-month slog that precedes another national election in 2024, this theme has continued for Colorado Republicans. Far-right Republicans and MAGA adherents seem hell-bent on making the same mistakes, again and again, until one of two things happen: Either 1) These mistakes miraculously morph into success as if by magic; or 2) There aren’t enough Republicans left who can win an election at any level.
Republicans are still struggling to understand how they could have lost a race for Mayor in FRIGGIN’ COLORADO SPRINGS – historically a bastion of right-wing politics – but the smart ones should be turning their attention to the idiocy taking place in two communities to the north. Democrats have won every statewide race, a majority of Congressional seats, and supermajorities in the state legislature, leaving Republicans with control in just a handful of local municipalities in the Metro Denver area (which most Colorado voters call home). Where MAGA Republicans remain in elected office, such as on local school boards in Douglas County and Woodland Park, they are demonstrating anew why they shouldn’t be put in charge of anything.
Let’s start in Douglas County, where Jessica Seaman of The Denver Post reported this week on the latest fallout from an asinine obsession with “Critical Race Theory” (CRT) that has blinded the conservative school board to ACTUAL problems of racism in the district:
Douglas County school board member Elizabeth Hanson resigned Tuesday evening, stepping down before the board was set to vote on changes to the district’s equity policy — one of several areas in which Hanson and the conservative majority have had sharp differences.
“There are some egregious things that are happening on the board right now,” Hanson, who was elected in 2019, told The Denver Post. Her resignation, which is effective immediately, comes months before her term was set to end in November.
“As a Board of Education, every decision that we make should be grounded in how are we making our district better for our students and our employees and this board is sadly failing both,” Hanson told the board when announcing her resignation…
…“I don’t feel I can look our students in the eyes and assure them that this board is doing everything in our power to meet our moral and or legal obligations to make sure that our students have an inclusive and safe learning environment,” Hanson said about the potential changes to the equity policy. [Pols emphasis]
Tuesday’s meeting began with a rally outside of school district offices to protest concerns about racism involving the treatment of 14-year-old Jaramiah Ganzy at Castle Rock Middle School. Ganzy’s family says they are moving out of Castle Rock as a result.
As Elizabeth Hernandez reported for The Denver Post:
In March, 14-year-old Jeramiah Ganzy was so fed up with what he said was racist treatment at Castle Rock Middle School that he wrote an email to district officials. In that message, provided to The Denver Post, Jeramiah wrote that he experienced repeated instances of discrimination, including students directing racist slurs at him and teachers unfairly targeting him for discipline.
“There had been a lot of bullying of people calling me a monkey and a cotton picker,” Jeramiah told The Post in an interview. “I wanted something to happen. I sent the email in anger and frustration, hoping to get a response — and I didn’t.” [Pols emphasis]
This seems like a pretty important topic to address, but on Tuesday, discussion about the district’s equity policy instead devolved into the standard nonsense grievances about CRT, which – like everywhere else that features hand wringing from right-wingers – isn’t even a thing that is taught in Douglas County. Conservatives on the board spent hours overseeing a “thesaurus meeting” in which different sentence structures were debated so that sad white people wouldn’t have to think about racism in real life.
Tuesday’s discussion was the continuation of fallout from a previous school board passing an equity policy in March 2021. Later that year, four right-wingers were elected to the DougCo School Board, giving conservatives a majority that they immediately exploited. One of the board’s first actions was to direct then-Superintendent Corey Wise to review the equity policy; a week later, the board fired the popular Wise in a split vote that led to accusations of a violation of open meeting laws and a lawsuit from Wise that the board still refuses to settle at significant financial cost to the district.
(The firing of Wise also touched off protests from students, teachers, and educators from across the region. Republican radio hosts such as George Brauchler and Dan Caplis responded by trying to doxx teachers who participated in the rallies.)
Instead of focusing on reports that a student was threatened with lynching, the DougCo School Board spends its days copy-editing its “equity policy,” which nobody outside of a small group of people will ever read anyway. This is the kind of right-wing nonsense – including efforts to revise the history curriculum – that got three school board members recalled in Jefferson County in 2015, and it’s likely going to eventually lead to the ouster of the current conservative majority in Douglas County.
Here’s a weirdly-perfect seque…one of the Jeffco School Board Members recalled in 2015 was Ken Witt. Inexplicably, Witt is now the Superintendent in Woodland Park, a small community to the south of Douglas County near Colorado Springs.
Problems with Woodland Park’s MAGA-inspired school district recently earned national attention via Tyler Kingkade of NBC News:
When a conservative slate of candidates won control of the school board here 18 months ago, they began making big changes to reshape the district.
Woodland Park, a small mountain town that overlooks Pikes Peak, became the first — and, so far, only — district in the country to adopt the American Birthright social studies standard, created by a right-wing advocacy group that warns of the “steady whittling away of American liberty.” The new board hired a superintendent who was previously recalled from a nearby school board after pushing for a curriculum that would “promote positive aspects of the United States.” The board approved the community’s first charter school without public notice and gave the charter a third of the middle school building.
As teachers, students and parents began protesting these decisions, the administration barred employees from discussing the district on social media. At least two staff members who objected to the board’s decisions were later forced out of their jobs, while another was fired for allegedly encouraging protests.
These rapid and sweeping shifts weren’t coincidental — instead it was a plan ripped from the MAGA playbook designed to catch opponents off guard, according to a board member’s email released through an open records request.
“This is the flood the zone tactic, and the idea is if you advance on many fronts at the same time, then the enemy cannot fortify, defend, effectively counter-attack at any one front,” David Illingworth, one of the new conservative school board members, wrote to another on Dec. 9, 2021, weeks after they were elected. “Divide, scatter, conquer. Trump was great at this in his first 100 days.” [Pols emphasis]
If members of the Woodland Park School Board were students of recent history, they might have known that Trump’s tactics cost him a second term in the White House in 2020 and were widely blamed by Republicans for disappointing election results in 2022. But Woodland Park is instead just the latest example of Republicans who prize rhetoric over reality.
The school board’s decisions have won some praise in heavily Republican Teller County, but opposition is growing, including from conservative Christians and lifelong GOP voters who say the board has made too many ill-advised decisions and lacks transparency.
“I think they look at us as this petri dish where they can really push all their agenda and theories,” said Joe Dohrn, a Woodland Park father who described himself as a staunch Republican and “very capitalistic.”
“They clearly are willing to sacrifice the public school and to put students presently in the public school through years of disarray to drive home their ideological beliefs. It’s a travesty.” [Pols emphasis]
Teachers grew particularly alarmed early this year when word spread that Ken Witt, the new superintendent, did not plan to reapply for grants that covered the salaries of counselors and social workers.
At Gateway Elementary School in March, Witt told staff members he prioritized academic achievement, not students’ emotions. “We are not the department of health and human services,” he said, as teachers angrily objected, according to two recordings of the meeting made by staff members and shared with NBC News.
Someone in the meeting asked if taxpayers would get a say in these changes, and Witt said that they already did — when they elected the school board.
The entire story from NBC News is well worth a read. Woodland Park’s MAGA School Board may find themselves with a lot more work to do this fall, because their actions are leading to an exodus of academic experience:
As the school year winds down, many of the Woodland Park School District’s employees are heading for the exit, despite recently receiving an 8% raise. At least four of the district’s top administrators have quit because of the board’s policy changes, according to interviews and emails obtained through records requests. Nearly 40% of the high school’s professional staff have said they will not return next school year, according to an administrator in the district.
Hooray! High school students in Woodland Park won’t be learning about Critical Race Theory in 2023! Unfortunately, they might not be learning much about anything in the next school year without, you know, teachers.
Three of the five conservative school board members in Woodland Park are up for re-election in November. It would not be a surprise if all three are bounced from office in favor of candidates who are NOT comfortable with Ken Witt or the like-minded nutballs in Douglas County.
In the meantime, MAGA Republican school board members in Douglas County and Woodland Park might want to familiarize themselves with a different scholarly pursuit…the first rule of holes.
It’s a simple lesson: Stop digging.